Computing & information school approved
“Congratulations. We have a new school,” announced Board of Trustees chair Eva Blum following the board’s Oct. 28 vote to create the School of Computing and Information (SCI) at Pitt.
Plans for the new school began in 2015 when Provost Patricia E. Beeson called on faculty from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Department of Computer Science and the School of Information Sciences to develop a proposal for incorporating into a new academic unit focused on computing, data and information. (See June 11, 2015, University Times.)
SCI will launch with the start of the new fiscal year in July and will enroll its first cohort of students in fall 2017.
In her presentation to the board, Beeson said that advances in information and computing “aren’t just drivers for the economy, and aren’t just pervasive in everyday life, but they touch on everything that we do at the University. They’re changing the way that we educate students and they’re accelerating the pace of discovery and innovation in almost every area of inquiry.
“The advances are transforming everything from business, energy and health care to the arts, humanities and education,” Beeson said.
“Early in our strategic planning efforts, we recognized that the University needs to position itself to take advantage of these emerging trends if we’re to be successful in preparing students and advancing our research and our innovation for the 21st century.”
The areas of computing, data and information traditionally have been considered as separate methodologies and separate units at the University, “but increasingly they and the emerging trends around data science have become so intertwined that we feel that it makes sense for us to bring those together so that we have a core, rather than three separate silos,” the provost said.
The new school’s curriculum will focus on how computing and data are increasingly fundamental and embedded in professional disciplines, including areas such as health care and the science of learning, where Beeson said Pitt has particular strength.
“We have a proposal to develop a structure and a set of programs that are uniquely suited to the strengths and opportunities here at Pitt. And it will position us to be among the best, if not the best, in the areas in which we’ve chosen to specialize,” she said.
“In the process of building this strong core in computing and information and data, we’ll not only be building a strong school, we’ll be building a better University because we’re building on strengths and abilities in a broad range of disciplines from the sciences and engineering to the arts and the humanities,” said Beeson.
“I see this school as becoming a core resource for research collaborations at the University, increasing our ability to compete for large-scale collaborative grants and I see it as one of our key connections to industry — being a driver of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University,” she said.
“I also see incredible demand for the academic programs that are envisioned in this proposal. Not only is computing consistently identified as an area of job growth in the future, but the programs that are being discussed by our faculty will have students studying not just computing, but computing in health care and computing in economics, and computing in the arts. These sorts of programs are going to position our students for what I see as emerging trends in the demand for people who can easily navigate between the technological world and the real world in which they’re operating,” the provost said.
Trustees expressed their enthusiasm for the plan.
“It’s going to position us favorably in the global landscape and it’s going to enable us to develop highly specialized skills that are in demand,” said Deborah Gillotti.
G. Nicholas Beckwith III pointed out the University’s existing collaborations with UPMC in the areas of data management, data warehousing and data extraction. “It is the future of the University,” he said.
“It certainly is the future of medicine and of UPMC. This proposal advances this and, I think, significantly so.”
Emeritus trustee Alfred L. Moyé, chair of the School of Information Sciences (SIS) board of visitors, said: “We have been advocating something like this to the provost for a while. We think this is so critical for our students. It’s going to make it easier for our students to understand what the opportunities are for them in the modern world.”
Moyé added: “We have said it’s a bold undertaking. We would like to see its enthusiastic implementation quickly, and let’s remove any barriers based on academic traditions so that we can implement this.”
“This is a proud day,” said Keith E. Schaefer, also a member of the SIS board of visitors. “This is a really big idea and it’s going to work and we’re going to be proud of it.”
In his report to the board, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher thanked trustees for approving the new school.
“Your vote today begins a very important chapter for our University because it positions us for success in one of the most dynamic areas of opportunity in front of us,” he said.
“This is a leadership move,” the chancellor added. “This school has the potential to position the University not just to be good but to be the best. Now we have to turn that vision into reality. It’s all going to be about execution. Our job collectively is to ensure the success.
“I think this school is going to be a vital hub within our University community — it’s not just going to enrich the faculty and students who are part of the school — but I think every school in this University is going to benefit from having a school like this.”
He predicted the school would become “an incredible magnet” for the University.
“The most creative and talented people in the world are going to want to come here to be part of this effort because this creates a compelling, supportive, interdisciplinary environment that’s focused on challenging some of the most exciting topics that we face and then enabling it with the kind of environment where you can make real groundbreaking discoveries,” Gallagher said.
He thanked Beeson for her vision and leadership and commended faculty for their work in response to the provost’s challenge to develop a plan for the new school.
“This is a compelling vision and I for one can’t wait to see it come to life.”
A search is underway for a founding dean for the school.
An informational video about the new school is posted at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ib9vPA8kys.
In other business at the board’s Oct. 28 public meeting:
Property and facilities committee chair John A. Barbour reported that the committee on Oct. 27 approved leases for the Graduate School of Public Health, the Manufacturing Assistance Center and the Swanson School of Engineering.
• A five-year lease renewal for public health’s clinical and office space in the Bellefield Professional Building, 130 N. Bellefield Ave.
The agreement with NDC Real Estate Management, effective April 1, 2017, is for 21,600 square feet of space at an initial annual cost of $691,200.
• A 10-year lease for 28,000 square feet of lab and office space in the Schenley Place building, 4420 Bayard St., for the Swanson school. The agreement with Schenley Place LP begins Feb. 1, 2017, at an initial annual cost of $956,045.
The space will be occupied in part by Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering chair Alan George’s National Science Foundation Center for High-Performance Reconfigurable Computing.
• A 10-year lease for 10,700 square feet of classroom and office space in the Westinghouse Foundry Facility, 7800 Susquehanna St., Homewood, for the Manufacturing Assistance Center, which provides manufacturing training and career development.
The agreement with the Bridgeway Development Corp. begins April 1, 2017, at an initial annual cost of $97,844.
On recommendation of the governance and nominating committee, the board elected Charles M. Steiner an emeritus trustee. Steiner served as a trustee 2005-16. During that time, he was a member of the academic affairs/libraries, institutional advancement, student affairs and risk and compliance committees.
Steiner, an entrepreneur in the electric industry, is the retired CEO and chair of electrical distributor Branch Group Inc.
Steiner earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Pitt. He has been a member of the board of visitors for the Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration since 1996. He was named a Katz school distinguished alumnus in 2003.
He and his wife, Rhoda, were inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society in recognition of their donations to the University. He also was named a University Legacy Laureate and received the 225th Anniversary Medallion.
—Kimberly K. Barlow